Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > Little Walter Harp Switching w/ Muddy Waters
Little Walter Harp Switching w/ Muddy Waters
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253 posts
Feb 17, 2019
6:24 PM
I was Googling some info on Little Walter's playing on "I Just Want To Make Love To You" and I stumbled across this article:

Little Walter Harp Switching with Muddy Waters.pdf

I remember reading the article when Billy Blue first published it to his website.

I spent the next half hour or so got through the songs he discusses. Even for a guy like me who named his son McKinley, there were a few surprises.

It makes you realize how clever Walter was.

I used to bump into Billy Blue when I played Worcester and Boston more often. He was pretty obsessive over Little Walter details (see the pie charts on his website) but the world needs that sometimes.

I heard he moved to Northwest somewhere. Anybody bump into him lately?

Last Edited by Rhartt1234 on Feb 17, 2019 6:30 PM
2839 posts
Feb 17, 2019
7:09 PM
It's a good way to add to your trick bag. I don't know how may people notice when I do this but it feels right sometimes. I go 1st to 2nd or sometimes 2nd to 3rd, or just stay with 3rd but switch from diatonic to chromatic. I'm no Little Walter!

Music and travel destroy prejudice.



5826 posts
Feb 18, 2019
3:27 AM
It’s interesting and I’ll finish reading it, but that bit about That’s It! I find hard to swallow. Little Walter supposedly wasn’t trying to play 1st because had he been, he’d have done a much better job!
Apparently it’s more reasonable to believe he thought the song was in Eb...even though he clearly knew he was in C as demonstrated by him playing 3rd on his Bb diatonic, or that he thought holding the button in would drop him 2 semitones!

I find the idea that he just messed up playing in 1st quite a bit easier to swallow than either of those explanations.

I know this was his first recording with the Chromatic but the other tunes he recorded that day indicate he understood the instrument pretty well at that point.
254 posts
Feb 18, 2019
7:21 AM
Regarding That's It:

Walter knew the song was in C and NOT Eb. He had been playing and recording in 3rd position long enough to know.

You can play 3rd position chromatic and NEVER have to touch the button.

That is not the case in 1st position chromatic.

I think anyone that has ever explored 1st position Chromatic has a moment where they go "I'm using the slide A LOT. I'm playing in C, but I'm using a lot of notes I associated with C#." It seems counter intuitive. However, you're not actually play sharps, you are playing Bb and Eb. I think Little Walter knew he needed the button in to get those key notes in the Blues scale but hadn't quite gotten ironed out the details. It takes a combination of button out and button in to play Blues in 1st position.

Harmonica bands that didn't think in "positions" already knew this.

From there you get some Bluesier approaches

And George Smith Puts it all together.

Sorry to turn this in to a 1st position chromatic thread.

Last Edited by Rhartt1234 on Feb 18, 2019 7:24 AM
1626 posts
Feb 18, 2019
1:19 PM
If you compare the licks between chromatic and diatonic on "That's It," they echo one another. Which indicates some forethought.

And by the way, playing with the slide in gives you all the blue notes of the C blues scale as draw notes:

Eb - minor third
Gb - flat fifth
Bb - flat seventh
C (B#) - tonic note

What's missing, though is G, the fifth of the chord.

And when you play the draw notes together as a chord, they sound unsettled because of that flat fifth - you need to resolve to the perfect fifth, G, which is a slide-out blow note. Something Walter seems not to have figured out.

By the way, using those slide-in blue notes in C is something Stevie Wonder explored very successfully a few years later - using the blow G and also doing slide ornaments on all of those blue notes, as heard in "Fingertips. Part 1 and 2:"

Note how, when Walter returns to diatonic after one verse on chromatic, the drummer drops all those crash cymbal hits. That hints that the whole thing had been done before and there was some planning. In other words, this wasn't just one of those "oops, never mind" experiments caught on tape.

Also, it's interesting that after recording "That's It" on 1953/07/23, Walter used a very similar approach on Muddy's "My Eyes Keep Me in Trouble"(1955/02/03), also in C, where Walter plays first position on a C harp during the vocal verses, then switches to chromatic for the solo, again playing of the slide-in draw notes - UNTIL the V chord (G) comes and he clams up, laying out before coming back in on diatonic at the return of the vocal.

So why does he clam up on the V chord? Could it be because he realized a chord of C-Eb-Gb-Bb wouldn't sound right against a chord of G-B-D-F? (If he had just let the slide out and played those draw notes, he could have had A-B-D-F, A rootless G9 chord, which would have fit very well.)


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Last Edited by WinslowYerxa on Feb 18, 2019 1:32 PM
3154 posts
Feb 18, 2019
3:20 PM
Dennis Gruenling-That's It-B flat diatonic and C chromatic

43 posts
Feb 19, 2019
6:09 AM
Dennis Greunling just posted a live jam where he switches to 4 harps in 1 song. Sounds great.

Last Edited by agarner on Feb 19, 2019 6:11 AM
5827 posts
Feb 20, 2019
11:10 PM
I will buy the contention about the switch in “I just want to make love ...”

I’m not completely convinced about the idea the 1st 4 bars of the solo in “I love the life ...” are 3rd position on a D harp. I’ve only had a quick listen but I guess it’s the little bend in the attack on the E that makes people think that...I see that well-known big list of songs, which Dave Barrett used to have on his site, also contends the first four bars are 3rd position. I dunno. I feel that can be managed on the 6 blow but I might be fooling myself. The little figure after the E in bar 1 might put me back in my box after I break it down.
3155 posts
Feb 21, 2019
6:08 AM
You can rest assured-he is playing a D harp in third on that passage.

Last Edited by tmf714 on Feb 26, 2019 9:40 AM
1628 posts
Feb 21, 2019
12:12 PM
The first four bars of the solo are definitely 3rd position on a D. Then he switches back to an A harp in second when the IV chord comes, and stays with it for the rest of the verse.

Evidence? You can't bend Blow 6 down a semitone on a standard A-harp. The bend you hear is more than you can get on a Blow 6. But also listen to what happens right after. The G natural he plays has the sound of a two-semitone bend on Draw 2, and not a one-semitone bend on Draw 3. Those bends each have a unique and unmistakable sound to an experienced player.

Harmonica lessons with one of the world's foremost experts
Check out my blog and other goodies at winslowyerxa.com
Harmonica For Dummies, Second Edition with tons of new stuff
The Harmonica Collective - November 1-3 in New Orleans

Last Edited by WinslowYerxa on Feb 21, 2019 12:14 PM
5828 posts
Feb 21, 2019
2:44 PM
Yeah ok, I’m convinced now I’ve had at it a bit. In the traffic and playing along as I walked last night it seemed I could bend that 6 blow about enough if it stopped just before the overbend but regardless of that it’s not the same in terms of dynamic power..and If I’m hearing the following lick properly it’s something like B A B G E which would be the 4 draw/blow/draw 3’ 2 on the A and does come across differently to the 3” 2 3” 2” 1
825 posts
Feb 22, 2019
7:24 AM
excellent post, id love to see more about first position chromatic but i dont want to hijack the thread
The Iceman
3776 posts
Feb 22, 2019
8:42 AM
Switching harmonicas during a song/solo shouldn't be a big deal....not illegal....and trying to get into the "head" of artists like Little Walter is weird...who knows what goes on in the mind of a creator such as he.....I believe he was less intellectual and more "sounds good to me, so whatever".

If you want an experience in harmonica switching during a song, find videos of Chinese/Korean/etc classical tremolo players. Not only is it some of the most beautiful sounding music, but there is an art to the switching of harmonicas during performance that is as beautiful to watch as a ballet.
The Iceman

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